CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Battlegrounds of the West Virginia Mine Wars have become destinations for a series of bus tours operated by Doug Estepp, a Mingo County native now living in the Eastern Panhandle.
Last month, Estepp's Coal Country Tours of Charles Town brought 34 visitors, mainly from the Washington-Baltimore area, into the state's southern coalfields for a three-day tour of sites of interest in the bloody struggle to unionize coal mining in the region.
Stops on the June tour included:
* Holly Grove on lower Paint Creek, where Baldwin-Felts detectives and striking miners clashed during a UMW organization drive along Cabin Creek and Paint Creek in 1912, and where coal operators used an armored train to machine-gun a striking miners camp in 1913.
* Blair Mountain, where an army of striking miners clashed with mine operators, their hired guns and sheriff's deputies along the Boone-Logan border in 1921.
* Matewan, the Mingo County community in which the mayor and police chief shot it out with coal company detectives who resisted arrest after evicting the families of union-supporting miners from coal company housing in May of 1920. Nine people died in the incident, known as the Matewan Massacre.
* The McDowell County Courthouse in Welch, where, in 1921, Matewan Mayor Ed Chambers and Police Chief Sid Hatfield were gunned down in an ambush in apparent retaliation for their roles in the Matewan Massacre. No one was ever charged with their murders.
* Bramwell in Mercer County, where the stately Victorian mansions of coal operators and railroad officials attest to the town's former status as the community with the nation's highest per capita concentration of millionaires.
There were also stops at the Whipple Company Store in Scarbro, the Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley, and at the end of the trip, at the Jefferson County Courthouse, where Bill Blizzard and other UMW Blair Mountain veterans were tried for treason in 1922.
The success of the June 16-18 tour has prompted Estepp to offer a similar tour Sept. 25-27, also departing from and ending in Charles Town.
"I was surprised and pleased by the response we got for the June tour," said Estepp. "I was hoping to get a group of no more than 36 people, to keep things manageable, and we had no trouble booking 36 for the first trip, although two people later had to cancel."
In addition to the September trip, he said, "We will soon be booking about 12 Coal Country tours for 2012, including departures from Pittsburgh and Columbus, and maybe an additional one out of Beckley. We will also be offering tours of Hatfield-McCoy country starting next June, and we will do a Paint Creek-Cabin Creek tour to explore the famous 1912-13 strike there. Sometime down the road we also plan to offer a Southern Appalachian Coal Railroad tour focusing on the C&O, N&W and Virginian railroads."